Saturday, 3 December 2011

The Hoist

We've died and gone to heaven. Its name is Florida. After chugging along the North Carolina ICW for a few days we felt like we would never get here so last Wednesday, when the forecast called for moderate seas and favorable winds, we decided to take advantage of the weather window and made a quick run for it offshore. The first 20 miles of the passage were still inside the ICW until we got to Beaufort Inlet, where the strong river currents challenge tides advancing from the open ocean. The narrow channel that lead us out to sea was churned up and foaming with fury. It looked rough out there. We charged at the confused channel knowing that the seas beyond were calm, but the spanking we got getting through sure made us wish we stayed on the ICW. At one point Rodeo took a nose dive between two enormous waves, forcing the one ahead to break over the deck, drenching the entire boat with a loud, hissing splash. We braced ourselves for the impact and ducked under the dodger to avoid getting soaked. What we didn't expect to see is a spray of salt water rushing inside the boat. Gabe jumped down below to see how the water managed to get in there and found our v-berth hatch open. It was very negligent of us not to shut it before we left and we paid for the oversight with a flooded floor and a wet mattress. Thankfully we got nothing but sunny skies and fair winds for the rest of the leg and Rodeo recovered in no time.
We intended to go as far as Hilton Head Island, SC, where we would spend a few days exploring. It's my old stomping ground. I spent a year working on the island 11 years ago. I would have loved to show Gabriel the restaurants I worked at and the spots where I hung out, but the going was so good, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to make an extra 140 miles of progress. This meant another full day and night at sea and we were already feeling weary after two overnights, but we knew that the headway was worth the effort so we pressed on. As the wind clocked from NW to N it slowly began to nudge the waves at our stern, creating the kind of rolling seas that challenge my body and my sanity. I wasn't alone. Gabe was not feeling too stellar either. The problem was that we didn't have enough wind to help us over the waves, not enough for the main or the head sails to do their job anyway. The only option would be to fly a spinnaker, but ours has a few holes in it and needed repairing. Not a big problem. I dusted off my trusty Singer and began patching up the parachute-like fabric of the spinnaker sail. Our Frankenstein was ready to go in no time. We rigged and hoisted it up, watched as it filled with wind, ballooning at the bow, beautiful and proud....then ripped in half just above my stitching line. What a bummer. On top of that, the upper half of the parted spinnaker was left dangling mast high on the halliard. It had to be retrieved, which meant someone had to climb the mast to grab it and pull it down. But what's a mast climb in 6 foot seas to old salts like us? Gabe got suited up in his climbing gear and went for it, slowly clambering up, fighting with the swing of the mast as the boat rocked side to side. Being able to scale the mast proved impossible and we decided that he would hoist me up on the main halliard instead. With two free hands I would not only be able to stop myself from swinging away from the mast, but while at the top I could deal with the flapping remnant of our spinnaker which had now wound itself around the mast. Ascending up it in rolling seas was an interesting trip. Gabe put a preventer around me and the mast to keep me from swinging out, yet l couldn't help but straddle the girth of it all the way up. By the time Gabe lowered me to deck, my thighs were sore and my nerves in shreds, but I still feel like a champ. One more lumpy night later, after an exhausting 3 day/3 night stint from Oriental, NC we were finally headed for land. We rocked into Jacksonville, FL on 10 foot rollers on Saturday morning, ushered into the inlet by a pod of dolphins playfully surfing the giant swells in our path.

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